Council defends Sovereign Shopping Centre purchase amid proposed M&S closure

M&S is set to close in Weston High Street. Picture: Jamie Medwell

M&S is set to close in Weston High Street. Picture: Jamie Medwell - Credit: Archant

North Somerset Council has defended its decision to purchase the Sovereign Shopping Centre despite its anchor retail unit announcing it is set to close.

The authority said it was ‘fully aware of the possibility’ Marks & Spencer (M&S) might close when it agreed a deal for the Sovereign Centre in August last year worth £21million.

It is predicted the council will receive £1.1million a year on the rental income from the investment.

A council spokesman said: “We were fully aware of the possibility that M&S might close Weston High Street store when we made our decision to buy the Sovereign Centre, and this was taken into account with the price. The majority of the store is in M&S’s freehold ownership.

“Buying the Sovereign Centre is a key element of our strategy of investment in Weston town centre.

“The Sovereign Centre is a sound investment and will continue to generate valuable income to deliver council services.”

MORE: How Weston reacted to proposed M&S closure.

M&S is set to close in Weston High Street.Picture: MARK ATHERTON

M&S is set to close in Weston High Street.Picture: MARK ATHERTON - Credit: Archant

M&S takes up one of the biggest units in the town’s High Street, and it is not yet known what will replace it.

The retailer has been in its High Street building since 1954 and is also accessible through the Sovereign Centre.

Although M&S owns the majority of its building as a freehold, it still rents a chunk from the authority.

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One-fifth of the units at the shopping centre are empty, but the Mercury reported on January 3 that negotiations to fill all the vacant units were underway, and designs to upgrade the building in development.

MORE: “Hopefully M&S will still be here for years to come.”

The council spokesman added: “We are committed to continuingly seek to invest in Weston’s town centre with a number of public realm improvements already delivered, and many more in the pipeline including better street layouts, public spaces and pedestrian facilities, as well as the public transport hub planned for Alexandra Parade, all designed to attract more people to spend time in the town centre.

“We are also looking to submit a bid to the Government’s future high streets fund for one of North Somerset’s high streets and Weston will be considered.

“Shopping habits are starting to change, as shoppers are looking more towards a visitor experience than a purely retail one.

“As retail starts to move away from a homogenous high street, more variety is starting to emerge.

“Independent shops in the town centre have reported a 12 per cent increase in trade over the Christmas period compared with the same time last year.”